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Government CIOs should shift focus

Chief information officers are under immense pressure to deliver organisational transformation - the reality is success comes from well-supported, steady change

In any public sector organisation, chief information officers (CIOs) are appointed with significant expectation. They come under pressure to effect wide transformation, but this is nearly impossible when government operational models are typically inflexible.

“Any newly appointed CIO needs to quickly demonstrate high effectiveness and influence,” says Neville Cannon, research director at Gartner. “To succeed they must resist and manage transformation hype before they can effect successful change.”

CIOs can then concentrate on delivering a steady stream of obvious improvement towards agreed goals, rather than introducing big change for change’s sake. “Continuously delivering solutions that optimise government services, with regular small improvements, adds up to significant change over time,” says Mr Cannon.

The need is urgent for CIOs to shift to the optimisation method as some 67 per cent of government organisations are pursuing transformation, yet only 5 per cent are achieving their goals. Part of the problem is many optimisation projects are branded as transformation, confusing aims, undermining efforts and leading to expectations that are unrealistic.

Digital optimisation can succeed with persistent vision and execution, sustained support from leadership and staff, and sufficient time and resources

Other common barriers to transformation that government CIOs face are inflexible business models, weak competitive pressure to motivate improvement and inconsistent practices around data. Instead, digital optimisation can succeed with persistent vision and execution, sustained support from leadership and staff, and sufficient time and resources.

“Transformation programmes often lose momentum or fall short of intended goals. They incur costs that can far exceed any value extracted,” says Mr Cannon. “These costs are immediate and tangible, as well as intangible drags such as troubled projects, loss of morale, damaged credibility and lower public confidence.”

There are several steps that CIOs leading the transition to digitally optimised government can take. First of all, they should promote an understanding of the differences between digital government optimisation and transformation. Mr Cannon says: “As part of this, it is essential CIOs evaluate their technology and service providers to ensure they accurately use these terms, so they are approaching their work in the right way and in the context of the government organisation.”

Gartner’s ITScore for Strategy and Execution document helps organisations measure their readiness for the desired change. By going through a detailed assessment of their capabilities, they can determine in clear terms whether the transformation envisioned by leadership is possible at their organisation’s level of technological maturity and what needs to change for success.

For those organisations that check their score and find they are lacking, it is essential to make sustainable optimisation the primary focus of change plans, both in terms of daily operations and strategic goals.

Given that any change requires executive support and funding, the organisation’s leaders need to be able to see clear near-term benefits congruent with their planned objectives. Mr Cannon explains: “By connecting gradual, but more quickly achievable benefits to the organisation’s strategic performance indicators, CIOs will show their chief executives how they are delivering the planned benefits and will win continued backing.”

It is the responsibility of the entire organisation to harvest the benefits “as these should accrue to the mission departments in the form of efficiency gains that positively impact outcomes and, of course, savings”, he says.

To achieve this the organisation should create a clear plan that is accessible, and incrementally and continuously delivers tangible value, while increasing digital capabilities and technological maturity.

When this support is garnered, CIOs can deliver optimisation in a number of key areas. First, there is the opportunity to maximise organisational revenue by reducing fraud, waste and abuse, and enhancing revenue management. This can include tax bodies using predictive data analytics and machine-learning to assess default risk or councils setting demand-responsive pricing for local street parking.

There is also the opportunity to improve operating margin, by reducing the cost of services. Truly paper-free processes cannot involve citizens printing out and scanning forms; instead they consist of end-to-end digital workflows that include online input and payment options. This is applicable across the board from business reporting to licence renewals and routine services. Equally, operating and administrative costs can be steadily cut through broader digital optimisation.

Third, CIOs can harness digital change to increase workforce efficiency and effectiveness. “Implementing a digital workplace programme increases employee productivity, creates growth opportunities for individuals, and improves employee recruitment and retention,” says Mr Cannon. “Equally, improving the relevance and usefulness of data to individuals, through analytics and machine-learning, can help increase people’s effectiveness.”

Improving constituent experience and engagement is another achievable change. Experience can be improved by maintaining a catalogue of well-designed application programming interfaces, so CIOs can build systems to support new apps and equally to allow third-party developers to create relevant tools. Engagement can be improved by harnessing social media, mobile apps, participatory budget development and citizen polling to connect fully with citizens and businesses.

Fifth, government CIOs can increase asset usage by optimising inventory, physical assets and financial assets. Analytics help improve performance in the supply chain and control in finance, while the internet of things can improve physical asset monitoring and introduce predictive maintenance.

Finally, overall organisational performance can be greatly improved by transparent measuring of strategic outcomes, and then clear demonstration of changes on dashboards available to citizens and businesses. “Dashboards by Bradford Council in the UK, and Kansas City in the US, as well as France’s administrative simplification display, show citizens how objectives are being achieved and this encourages further steady improvement,” Mr Cannon notes.

Overall, in spite of the challenges government CIOs face with transformation, real change is achievable when it is gradual, well planned and properly supported. A focus on delivering consistent optimisation is CIOs’ best route to building success.

To find out more about successful digital optimisation in government please visit gartner.com/en/industries/government-public-sector

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